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    The Island Beat

    So, I'm watching Saturday Night Live Jan. 31 and a musical guest I had never heard of by the name of Jason Mraz was introduced to the stage. When he started singing a song called "I'm yours," he immediately took me back to a time when I was living in Cleveland after college. I was living with my roommate Beth in Cleveland Heights off Coventry Road to be exact. Coventry was a well-known hippie hangout in the early 1980s and I moved there much to the chagrin of my parents.

    While I was there I met Ivor; Ivor Livingston Cole III to be exact, a Jamaican man about 15 years my senior who I fell madly in love with. It was through Ivor that I began to experience reggae music. So much so that he and I took a trip to Negril, Jamaica one year where I got a first hand taste of reggae music in real reggae hangouts which were indigenous to Jamaican culture.

    I didn't tell my parents about the trip until much later after the fact. Ivor introduced to me to the original music of the artist who brought reggae to the US, Bob Marley and his band The Wailers.

    He had died in 1981, but his music was so popular it was being emulated throughout Jamaica and in the US as well.

    The song I most remember from his music was "No Woman, No Cry." I want to say that in looking over the lyrics to Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry," both he and Jason Mraz put a lot into their lyrics. Marley has a very simple, straight line of delivery while Mraz has a more complex, hip hop bent to his song.

    My friend Raj had this to say by e-mail:

    “When I was at Scene [magazine] (and before I switched from music to film), I interviewed Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Toots (of Toots and the Maytals) on separate occasions.  All three were phoners, in promotion of an LP or maybe a ‘Front Row’ [magazine feature] appearance.  All I remember is Cliff and Marley each claiming to be the king of reggae (after I put the question to them as to who the king of reggae is).  I think Cliff was adamant about it. Anyway, there are a couple of Jamaican secretaries where I work.  A couple years ago, I heard the names Marley and Cliff mentioned in the lunch line.  So I related the above.  They thought it was really a big deal.  I guess those guys are/were really big back in the home country.”
    None the less, hearing Mraz's music and island beat took me back to my reggae days.

    What I was most struck by in the Jamaican culture was how destitute their living seemed to be. Yet when I was there, I found it to be very heart felt and joyous place to be.

    Along with Mraz's CD played on the computer, there is a video of him touring continental Europe. There to I saw a very simple side of Mraz which reminded me of the Jamaican lifestyle.

    According to the Wikipedia article about Mraz, he supports bootlegs of his live tours, so he isn't afraid to share his music.

    The lyrics of Mraz's “I’m yours” include "Open up your mind and see like me," while Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" includes the lyrics "In this great future, you can't forget your past."

    Both songwriters show a people-centered, simple view of life and share an island that beat carries the listener through the lyrics.

    They each individually have their own style of bending lyrics and easy going scat singing along with catchy tunes that make the lyrics all the more listenable.

    I recommend them both to you.

    Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in NYC and Los Angeles, now pursues free lance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns may be accessed at her web site www.kathrynskorner.com